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Uranium from waste site may have leaked into creeks

Radioactive uranium stored at the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works site is likely to have leaked into local creeks that empty into Lake Ontario, a scientist said at a meeting there Thursday.

Ronald J. Scrudato said his analysis of publicly available data leads him to believe it is likely that remnants of material stored at LOOW from the World War II atomic bomb project have run off the federal property over the years.

He said two major drainage ditches and several smaller ones on the site probably carried radioactive matter into Four Mile Creek and perhaps into Six Mile and Twelve Mile creeks, too.

"I don't think any sampling has been done in that creek system," Scrudato said. "It's a target area for uranium deposition."

He said he would like to see a core sample, three feet deep, taken in the mouth of Four Mile Creek, to see if any uranium was deposited in the sediments or along the banks.

He said the Defense Department could do it, but, Scrudato said, "I think it would be a hard sell, and if you found something, it would be a nightmare."

He said that would be especially true at Four Mile Creek, where the state operates a park and campground.

"There seems to be a reluctance to sample at the tributaries," said local environmentalist Amy Witryol, who attended Scrudato's report in the Lewiston Senior Services Center. Scrudato, former director of the Environmental Research Center at Oswego State College, was backed up by William Boeck, research professor at Niagara University, who agreed with Scrudato's hypothesis.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper watershed analyst Katherine Winkler said the group used a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to hire Scrudato, now working for Environmental Remediation Financial Services, a New Jersey company. The purpose of the grant was to analyze the situation at Air Force Plant 68, a former bomber fuel factory, which operated at the LOOW complex from 1957 to 1959.

In its brief heyday, it comprised 78 buildings on 100 acres south of Balmer Road. It worked with lithium, boron and borane, a hydrogen-lithium compound, Scrudato said.

The buildings were connected through a nest of underground pipes to LOOW's own wastewater treatment plant, which discharged sewage through a 30-inch pipe into the Niagara River. That pipe was long since blocked off.

Scrudato said a report on what contaminants are still at the former treatment plant is expected as soon as next month from a company hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

He said he doesn't think enough is known about current conditions at most of the 7,453-acre LOOW site to allow for a feasibility study of cleanup options.

His research leads him to believe that chemicals could have leaked back and forth between LOOW and the adjacent landfills owned by Modern Disposal and CWM Chemical Services. Boeck said one small area of interest is the 10-acre Interim Waste Containment Site.

It's part of the 191-acre Niagara Falls Storage Site, where the nuclear waste is stored.

Boeck said the containment site is the "mound" of dirt from three previous cleanup efforts at the Niagara Falls Storage Site.

A report last month estimated it would cost $238 million to excavate the mound and take the material elsewhere.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com